Despite a pledge by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to do all he can to prevent a teachers strike, peace between L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles remains elusive.
On the same day LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner accepted Garcetti’s offer to intervene and facilitate a settlement, UTLA rejected the help and filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district. That prompted LAUSD to file its own charge accusing UTLA of bad-faith bargaining.
"UTLA engaged in take-it-or-leave-it bargaining, making virtually no compromises toward reaching an agreement for the better part of 16 months," LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said in a statement. "UTLA talked openly about a strike long before the parties even began negotiations, let alone reached an impasse. It is now conducting a strike vote even though the parties have not even held their first mediation session.”
In fact, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has been talking about a strike ever since he became president of UTLA in 2014. Two years ago, he told his members that “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.”
That prompted one commentator in LA School Report, Caroline Bermudez, to take Caputo-Pearl to task: “Threatening to strike should be an absolute last resort, not the first order of action.”
Two years before that, during an earlier UTLA contract negotiation, Caputo-Pearl mentioned a possible strike to a group of bewildered parents at Back to School Night, prompting Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez to write the piece “Is the L.A. teachers union tone deaf?”
“The union has shown little flexibility: not on salary negotiations, tenure, student testing, teacher evaluations or anything else. How do you negotiate with that?” Lopez wrote. “UTLA's political strategy is borrowed in part from the Chicago Teachers Union, which led a strike two years ago that won pay increases for teachers but left bitter feelings all around…Hey, I understand the purpose of union rhetoric in the middle of contract negotiations…But a strike would be disastrous for students, parents and even teachers. And it could drive even more families out of the district or into the charter schools the union so despises.”
Garcetti, in his remarks last week, also emphasized the importance of avoiding a strike, which will deprive kids of an education. "We need to make sure teachers are in schools and that children have teachers,” he told reporters Friday. “I will do anything that I can to make sure there is not a strike, or, if a strike is called, to directly intervene in negotiations.”
Meanwhile, UTLA claimed in its own unfair labor practice charge that LAUSD’s quick response to a Public Records Request from a KPCC reporter seeking Caputo-Pearl’s employee disciplinary record was somehow an attempt to interfere with its strike vote. That’s despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times already published a story in 2014 based on those records, showing that Caputo-Pearl faced discipline for allegedly leaving campus during the school day to campaign for the union presidency, missing hours that added up to 17 days.
An LAUSD spokeswoman said that the legal process for responding to a reporter’s request for public records “has nothing whatsoever to do with negotiations.”
However, one district source speculated that UTLA might be attempting to lay the groundwork for what’s called an “unfair practice” strike in order to bypass mediation and hold a strike on its preferred timeline.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, UTLA representative Glenn Sacks said “the strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 3,” even though the first mediation session between the two sides won’t happen until Sept. 27. UTLA is required by law to go through mediation, followed by a fact-finding process, before it is legally allowed to strike, making a legal strike on Oct. 3 almost impossible.
UTLA has been infuriated by the late September mediation start date, which makes a strike in October more difficult, and UTLA lawyers have complained to the Public Employee Relations Board, which oversees the bargaining process. LAUSD believes all of this is evidence that UTLA is not engaged in good-faith bargaining, and the goal all along has been to strike rather than reach a deal.
"Upon Commencement of The Impasse Process, UTLA Issues Histrionical Demands That The Mediation Process Wrap-Up Quickly So That It Could Commence Its Strike In October,” LAUSD wrote in its unfair labor practice charge. “When the schedule was not swift enough, UTLA went around the assigned mediator, writing to the Chief mediator, and demanding that mediation be bypassed, and the matter certified to fact finding, so that UTLA could strike as soon as possible…When that request was denied, UTLA, in violation of PERB rules, wrote directly to the PERB General Counsel and the Board itself, demanding that the process be expedited.”
Because of UTLA’s take-it-or-leave-it final offer, with $3 billion of demands that Beutner has said would lead to instant insolvency, Holmquist said, “it is clear that UTLA wishes to coerce the district into making what would be irresponsible financial decisions.”
The LA County Office of Education (LACOE) Chief Financial Officer, Candi Clark, made a surprise visit to the August 21 LAUSD Board meeting to underscore the serious fiscal situation facing LAUSD. Clark reminded the board that LACOE, which oversees the LAUSD budget, has the power to rescind the board’s decision-making authority if LAUSD spends more than laid out in its fiscal stabilization plan.
Garcetti, according to the Los Angeles Times, said that he empathized with teachers but also realizes that the district is in danger of going “off a cliff” financially, which would lead to “larger class sizes, possible layoffs, etc. So I think that it’s very important to live inside the means that we have.”
UTLA’s strike authorization vote is expected to conclude Thursday. Holmquist said that UTLA’s conduct throughout the bargaining process, including the timing of the strike authorization vote, “violates the Educational Employment Relations Act. The District has requested an expedited hearing and looks forward to presenting all the evidence."